It has been a coup from Day One for The Banks to land General Electric Co. as its first office tenant.
The prospect of more than 2,000 people working on Downtown Cincinnati’s riverfront is expected to fuel spending at existing bars and restaurants, to persuade new operators to join the fray and to give a boost to apartment leasing.
But talk to members of The Banks’ development team and they’ll say GE’s decision helps validate what they’ve been trying to build there for nearly a decade. For GE, the new Cincinnati operation is designed to improve how the company works internally to provide better service to customers externally.
“Being able to work through a deal like this is absolutely a home run for Cincinnati,” said Dan McCarthy, The Banks’ project executive for developer Carter & Associates, on Wednesday at a joint meeting among six of the region’s real estate organizations. “We are absolutely privileged to be a part of it.”
It has been two years since GE announced it would locate its new operation at The Banks. Every day, between 250 and 300 construction workers are helping to finish the $90 million project, said Alan Williams, operations manager for Brasfield & Gorrie, the project’s construction manager.
In September, the company is expected to move to The Banks from temporary space it established downtown. More than 650 people work downtown for GE now, company spokesman Jeff Caywood said. Hiring is expected to continue for the U.S. Global Operations Center jobs, which the company said in 2014 would have an average salary of about $79,000 a year.
Building the operations base
GE sees big value in what it describes as “shared services centers.” It’s already established similar operations in other countries such as China, Hungary and Mexico.
The journey for the company started several years after benchmarking how other companies benefitted from developing similar operations, Caywood said.
Workers in Cincinnati are charged with finding ways to streamline operations within GE’s business units, from aviation to healthcare and lighting to appliances. That means they’re supporting operations responsible for generating $50 billion of revenue for GE each year.
Standardizing simple and more complex processes can save time for workers, which can ultimately improve the bottom line, he said. Today, processes such as accounts receivable and payable, credit services, indirect sourcing and customer onboarding are handled by the operations center, Caywood said.
Last year, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt said Southwest Ohio’s talent pool was among the biggest reasons why GE chose to locate here. Since the operations center opened in July 2014, Caywood said the company has been successful at getting early career talent from local universities, experienced talent from larger firms in the area, and internal transfers who decided to relocate to Cincinnati.
About 20 percent of the GE operations center workers in Cincinnati are transplants, which Caywood said is a better percentage than the company expected. The Banks’ amenities and its location are a big part of that, he said.
“Our choice of being downtown and on The Banks has been a real selling point for those candidates when they come in and see what we’re doing,” Caywood said. “It has certainly helped us with our recruiting of talent both in the market as well as outside of Cincinnati. It’s a very attractive site in terms of location, amenities that we felt would really benefit us for the culture we’re trying to create and the type of employees that we want to bring to the center.”
GE’s building is within the same block as Radius, a 292-unit apartment development. There are 19,000 square feet of street-level retail space in both buildings, and space also bridges the gap between them. GE’s neighbor to the east is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and it’s bookended by complexes for pro sports teams at Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park. There’s also the Smale Riverfront Park and its amenities to the south.
GE’s big value to The Banks
One billion dollars of economic impact. That’s what the University of Cincinnati Economics Center estimated the potential annual impact the GE operations center could have in the city. The number, which the report said could be reached in 2018, takes into account the direct and indirect employment and spending those new-to-market jobs are expected to create.
“I love saying that,” McCarthy said about the billion-dollar number.
McCarthy also called the investment “a sea change” for The Banks. It helps prove that office products can be built on the riverfront and shows The Banks is an extension of the central business district. It also could help fill voids at the entertainment- and dining-centered district outside of game days, weekends and other major events.
Project planners have been envisioning landing an office tenant at The Banks since early concept plans were developed 20 years ago. In 2007, the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County picked Atlanta-based firms Carter & Associates and the Dawson Co. to lead the project. Project drawings before GE’s announcement often showed the spot at Second and Walnut streets among the opportunities to land an office tenant, but no deals have been able to be executed.
GE’s arrival may change that, McCarthy said, but it hasn’t happened yet.
More than a building
GE’s building is 12 stories, with the company’s office spaces beginning on the fourth floor. The building’s lobby is located at street level. Parking for residents at the apartments next door is located on the building’s second floor. Conference and training spaces, a grab-and-go cafe and an employee fitness center are located on the building’s third floor. The main entrance will be at the corner of Second and Rosa Parks streets.
It’s all about open and collaborative work spaces inside the building, Caywood said. Office floors will feature a mix of huddle spaces and workstations; however, he said employees won’t have to be burdened to only work from one location inside the building.
“The goal is where ever you are in the facility, you can meet and work with people in real time,” he said.
The building has 33,000-square-foot floorplates and floor-to-ceiling glass on each floor, and is pursuing building certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. Two “lightboxes” bearing GE’s logo on the building adds the company to the city’s skyline and reminds passersby about the company’s weight as an addition to the central business district.
GE signed a 15-year lease to occupy the 338,000-square-foot building with The Banks’ master developer Carter, which owns the building. PNC Financial Services led the construction financing for the project and Birmingham, Alabama-based Brasfield & Gorrie launched the construction project in November 2014. Brasfield is working with Walnut Hills-based Jostin Construction as a project partner. CBRE will manage the GE property when it’s complete.